Grassroots consultations to refine the national agricultural advisory services

Bette Harms, Gerdien Meijerink and Augustine Mwendya

The core business of the Uganda National Farmers Federation (UNFFE) is to lobby and promote the farmer-enabling environment. The Federation stemmed from agricultural competitions organised by the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries of the National Resistance Movement (NRM) government between 1988 and 1993. The competitions, were meant to reward best performing farmers in livestock and agricultural production. In order to institutionalise these competitions, the Ministry facilitated the formation of the Uganda National Farmers’ Association (UNFA) on 22 January 1992. The Association developed into the Uganda National Farmers Federation (UNFFE) in 2002.

The Federation has 78 member farmer organisations, consisting of District Farmer Associations (DFAs), Commodity-Specific Associations and agri-business related farmer-service oriented companies that operate at national and district levels. The total individual membership is over 1,000,000 farmers, of whom 45 per cent are women. UNFFE leaders are elected at parish, sub-county, district and national level. Elected officials serve voluntarily, based on their interest in improving the incomes and welfare of fellow farmers.

UNFFE organisational structure consists of: (i) The National Farmers Council, (ii) The National Executive Committee, and (iii) The Secretariat. The National Executive Committee, currently presided by Mr Charles Ogang, has ten members and is supported by a management staff of eleven.

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Development challenge

Uganda has a population of over 35 million people with ten main ethnic groups. Some 15 per cent of the population lives in urban areas. Literacy rates are almost 77 per cent for men and 58 per cent for women. Uganda has generally fertile soils and regular rainfall. Agriculture is the most important economic sector, employing some 80 per cent of the work force and representing some 24 per cent of the GDP.

Coffee is one of Uganda’s main crops, accounting for the main portion of its export revenues. In addition to coffee, Uganda also exports fish and fish products, tea, cotton, flowers and horticultural products.

Since 1986, the government of Yoweri Museveni has brought relative stability and economic growth to Uganda. Museveni was re-elected for another 5 years in 2011. From the start of his rule, the Ugandan government has focused on rehabilitating and stabilising the economy by undertaking currency reforms, raising producer prices on export crops, increasing prices of petroleum products, and improving civil service wages. The policy changes are especially aimed at dampening inflation and boosting production and export earnings. The GDP for 2011 was estimated to be USD47.78 billion, with a growth rate of 5.1 per cent (down from 6 per cent in 2010 and 7 per cent in 2009). The global economic downturn has hurt Uganda’s exports. Oil revenues and taxes will become a larger source of government funding as oil comes into production in the next few years. Per capita income is currently USD1,400, up from USD1,300 in 2009. However, it was estimated that 24.5 per cent of Ugandans still lived below the poverty line in 2009.

Uganda has six million farmers. Smallholder farmers form the majority (over 90 per cent) of the farming community in the country. They are characterised by a low resource base in terms of land (less than 3 ha per household), capital, labour (they mainly depend on family labour), and limited farm management skills. Their farming operations are low input/low output and they generally lack necessary information for improving their situation. The majority of farmers are individual producers operating at subsistence level having limited surpluses to sell, which they also sell as individuals. The quality of their produce is generally low, a factor which hinders access to markets and reduces their bargaining power. Thus farmers do not benefit fully from farming, which is their major economic activity. The need to improve their access to markets is therefore apparent.

UNFFE strives to help farmers in four major areas: building institutions, technical assistance, general support services, and lobbying and advocacy.

Building Farmer Institutions: Starting at the grassroots level, UNFFE’s members help to organise farmers into groups commonly known as Special Interest Groups (SIGs). These SIGs receive services such as agricultural extension, training in post-harvest handling and quality management. They are also encouraged to pool their produce and sell as a group in order to increase their bargaining power. These services are all aimed at helping farmers to access the market.

Technical Assistance: UNFFE provides technical assistance to farmers, through the DFAs, in the following areas: Accessing high-quality inputs (e.g. improved seeds, fertilisers), training in proper use and handling of agricultural chemicals, provision of input/output market information as well as development and training in improving product quality.

General support services:These include promoting produce bulking, linking smallholder farmers to traders and institutions, and sensitising smallholder farmers on the GlobalGAP.

Lobbying and advocacy: These are activities that help smallholder farmers to increase production to meet demand and that promote market access within multilateral trading systems.

Collaborative research process

Many development challenges were identified in the first workshop held by AGRINATURA, IFAP and UNFFE in 2008:

  1. Provide accessible and affordable finance for farmers to invest in value addition of farm production.
  2. Provide accessible and affordable finance for storage and bulking.
  3. Provide access to market information (including radio stations, internet, etc.).
  4. Strengthen extension services through existing and new farmer groups.
  5. Establish incentives for strengthening and self-sustenance of farmer groups.
  6. Establish regulations for quality standards.
  7. Support district commercial officers in collecting market information.
  8. Put zoning policies (geographical specialisation/commodity-based regional differentiation) into operation.
  9. Provide national policies on bulking.

Lessons learnt

  • The goal of ESFIM was to improve UNFFE’s lobbying strategy through local research, supported by the AGRINATURA team. At first, it was not clear whether this concept would work in practice. We feel that it has been partly successful in Uganda. Gathering evidence-based information from farmers gave UNFFE sufficient material upon which to base an advocacy strategy. It had the beneficial side-effect of linking UNFFE up with various farmers throughout Uganda. However, because most activities were carried out by a consultant, ESFIM probably contributed little to institutional learningand to forging partnerships with research institutes such as universities. However, the project did provide UNFFE with the positive experience of using research, as was illustrated by a statement made by the President of UNFFE during the final workshop: “I would like that UNFFE staff get more involved in research programmes. We need a more participatory programme both at the apex and down to the beneficiaries”.
  • The study has given UNFFE a strong evidence-based advocacy message that was enriched by discussions with its members and partners. UNFFE has expressed advocacy and lobby as one of their strong points, in contrast to a poor capacity in reaching out to member organisations, therefore EFSIM has provided crucial support.
  • UNFFE’s challenge for the future is to create strong coherence with its members in order to send a stronger advocacy message to the outside world.